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Dublin’s Wordy Men

Dublin is famous for many things and over its thousand-year history it saw the building of the first two-chamber parliament (Houses of Commons & Lords) – now the Bank of Ireland, College green – in the 1730s; the construction of the Rotunda by Benjamin Mosse in 1745, which is now the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world, and the production of Guinness, one of the best-known drinks in the world. However, its contribution to the written word is legendary with its three native-born Nobel Laureates for Literature giving it a unique place in history.

WBY - home on Sandymount Avenue

WBY – home on Sandymount Avenue

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Sandymount and is considered one of the foremost of 20th century literature. He studied in London and spent summer holidays with his maternal grandparents in Sligo, a place that he often wrote about. With Lady Augusta Gregory he established the Abbey Theatre, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 that cited his ‘inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.’ Voted as Ireland’s favourite poet his poem Easter 1916, written in the months after the event, capture the mood of the nation at that very tense moment. On the other hand one of his earliest works, Lake Isle of Innisfree (from 1888), a twelve-line written in style of the Celtic Revival that was then becoming popular is still the poem that most people are familiar with:

WBY

WBY

 I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.

GB Shaw

GB Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in 33 Synge Street, but went to London where he worked as a theatre critic before starting to  write. He is best known as a playwright (he wrote more than 60 plays) with Man and Superman, Saint Joan and Pygmalion being the most famous. In 1938 a film version of Pygmalion was produced in Hollywood and it won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. He is the first person to have won both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar. In 1906 he moved to a house in Ayot St Lawrence, north of London, that late became known as Shaw’ Corner. He spent the rest of his life here and loved nothing more than tending the garden with his wife Charlotte. In 1950 he fell while pruning a tree, and he died shortly afterwards from complications associated with the fall. He was ninety-four! His and Charlotte’s ashes were scattered along the paths and throughout the garden they loved.

Samuel Beckettth

Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett (1913-1989) was born in Foxrock and went to Trinity College. A keen sportsman he is the only Nobel Laureate to have played first class cricket having featured in two matches against Northamptonshire. He was in France when WWII began and fought with the French Resistance and was awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance. He described his efforts during the war, rather humbly, as ‘boy scout stuff’. He had met James Joyce in Paris in the 1930s and had begun writing before the war began. In 1949, his bleak absurdist play Waiting for Godot was well-received in Paris. When the play was first performed in London in 1955 it was voted ‘the most significant English language play of the 20th century’.  His works consider the tragicomic conditions of life, that often combine a bleakness and minimalism which he captured so well. Beckett was at the forefront of ‘modernist’ writing style and a leading light in the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. He lived and worked in Paris until he died on 22 December 1989 and he is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. And on 10th December 2009 the new bridge across the Liffey was named in his honour.

Samuel Beckett BridgeB1

Samuel Beckett Bridge

 

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Dublin Writers’ Museum – It’s about words!

Dublin Writers' Museum

Dublin Writers’ Museum

For a city that has given the world so much fine literature the Dublin Writers’ Museum tells a story through its collection of letters, books and personal possessions of many great writers. It was setup in 1991 and with an interesting, chronological layout it is easy to follow the development of Irish writing from the late 17th to Samuel Beckett who died in 1989.

The building, at 18 Parnell Square, dates back to 1780 when Lord Farnham was its first occupant. It changed hands a few times until George Jameson (of the Jameson distilling family) bought the house in 1891. Over the years he made major refurbishments, including the creation of the wonderful Gallery of Writers on the first floor.

Dracula - First Edition

Dracula – First Edition

In the first room you can find out about the beginnings of Irish poetry and storytelling with the emergence of Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose play The Rivals gave the world the word malapropism. There is a unique document with Jonathan Swift’s signature and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And you can find out about Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu  and the songs of Thomas Moore.

The second room concentrates of the works from the Irish Literary Revival at the end of the 19th century. The opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 was a pivotal moment with its productions of plays by playwrights WB Yeats, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey and there are many original programmes from the time. The signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is worth the visit for any Joycean fan. There is plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy on Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, writers whose short stories elevated the art form. An original Cruiskeen Lawn column (from the Irish Times) by Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) was a delight.

Upstairs in the Gallery there are some fine portraits and glass cabinets with letters, papers and other personal items. The telephone that Samuel Beckett had in his Paris apartment that allowed him chose whether to speak to a caller or not is quirky. There is the piano that Joyce played regularly and the chair that GF Handel sat on when conducting Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in 1642!

James Joyce's piano

James Joyce’s piano

The museum is a popular visitor attraction and it’s easy to see why. It’s a wordy place.

 

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Dun Laoghaire’s Piers – Walk This Way!

East Pier

East Pier

Generations of people have been taking a ‘walk on the pier’ and it is something that I have always enjoyed. Whether the day is warm and a gentle breeze blowing or you are wrapped up against a bracing wind, ‘taking the air’ is a real pleasure. The sharp, salty air never fails to clear a stuffy head, and the long walk is a favourite for thousands.

West Pier with Twin Towers

West Pier & Poolbeg’s Twin Towers

The waters in Dublin Bay often silted up making it difficult for ships to land and they would have to stay moored off-shore for days. A small pier was opened in 1767 (Coal Harbour Pier) but it soon became useless. After two disasters in November 1807 when the HMS Prince of Wales and The Rochdale sank with the loss of 400 people there was an outcry for ‘something to be done.’ In 1815 an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of ‘a harbour for ships to the eastward of Dunleary’, and the foundation stone (East Pier) was laid in May 1817 by Earl Whitworth, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The granite was quarried in Dalkey and transported by a funicular railway that later became the Atmospheric Railway. By 1820 the original plan was amended by engineer John Rennie to add a second pier, and the West Pier was completed in 1827.

Early evening

Early evening

The East Pier (red for port) is 2.6 K (out & back) while the West Pier (green for starboard) is slightly longer at 3.01 K. They enclose a 250 acre harbour and the gap between them is 232 metres. The East Pier is the more popular with walkers and has a bandstand (built 1890s) where, weather permitting, music concerts take place. There is also a memorial to Captain Boyd and his crew who drowned in 1861 during a rescue. And you can see a plaque in honour of Samuel Beckett who also liked to ‘walk the pier’ – Happy Days!

A picturesque Dun Laoghaire Harbour

A picturesque Dun Laoghaire Harbour

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Samuel Beckett – Less is Less!

Samuel Beckett in Trinity College

Samuel Beckett in Trinity College

For someone born on Friday 13th especially as it was also Good Friday (in 1906), something special could be expected. So it’s no surprise that Beckett, who was born in Foxrock, Co Dublin, went on to become one of the most important writers of the 20th century and an inspiration to dramatists like Vaclav Havel, Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. His influence on the Beat Generation and their ‘experimental writing’ was vital for Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and many others.
Beckett was educated originally in Dublin before attending Portora Royal School in Enniskillen (Oscar Wilde had once been a pupil) and then entering   Dublin University (Trinity College). He was a bright a student and an excellent athlete, excelling at cricket. He played two first-class matches against Northamptonshire and, as such, has the unique distinction of being the only Nobel laureate (1969) to be mentioned in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanac – cricket’s ‘bible’.

College Park - Beckett played cricket

College Park – Beckett played cricket

He went to Paris in 1927 to teach English and was soon introduced to James Joyce. Over the next two years, and with Joyce’s failing eyesight, he did much research on what would become Joyce’s last work Finnegans Wake. He was greatly impressed with the older man, and his first published work was a critical essay in support of Joyce.
After a short return to Dublin he went back to Paris when WWII began. He helped the French Resistance and in 1942 was lucky to escape capture by the Gestapo. His commitment was recognised after the war, when he was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government.
This was Beckett’s most productive period, highlighted by the completion in January 1949 of his play Waiting for Godot. This play is considered by many as one of the greatest works of the century and, like all masterpieces, has any number of interpretations. The critic Vivian Mercier commented that ‘Beckett has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.’ Or more succinctly – less is less!

Gate Theatre - long relationship with  Beckett

Gate Theatre – long relationship with Beckett

 

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Bewleys Cafe – a flavour of Dublin

Even as it approaches its ninetieth year, Bewleys Café is as familiar as a best friend and a place I have always enjoyed. From the moment you approach the shop, depending of course on the direction of the wind, the aroma of fine coffee is enticing. It’s unique, and is appreciated by the patrons who daily pack the quirky, old building.

Egyptian-inspired decoration

Egyptian-inspired decoration

 

Famous pupils

Famous pupils

It opened for business in 1927 after extensive refurbishment, and was inspired by the great Paris and Vienna cafes.   The exterior Egyptian decoration reflects the contemporary discovery of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. The stained glass windows that Harry Clarke created are the highlight of the café, and are really appreciated when lit by strong sunlight. In the late 18th century the building housed Whyte’s Academy, the school where Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of  Wellington) and Thomas Moore attended. Robert Emmet, from St Stephen’s Green, a scone’s throw away, was another famous pupil.

Harry Clarke's wonderful windows

Harry Clarke’s wonderful windows

Originally a supplier of tea Bewleys later developed its coffee business, and it is now the biggest café and restaurant in Ireland with a million customers annually. It’s coffee (Arabica beans) is all Fairtrade sourced. The green beans, from Central and South America, are roasted on the premises and soon produce the familiar aroma and flavour. Add this to the in-house made bread, cakes, pizzas and salads and it is easy to see why it is has been Dublin’s favourite restaurant since it opened. It has also been one of Dubliner’s most popular meeting places, and is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Other literary figures like Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett liked to sit and watch the world go by. That hasn’t changed, and with the hum of lively conversation in my ears, I feel it’s not likely to happen…for a long, long time!

Beans, means.....great coffee!

Beans, means…..great coffee!

 

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Liffey Bridges – a connecting history

We use them to get from one side to the other, but bridges are more than just physical things. Since we began making our way we recognised the need to span voids, and the concept of a bridge and its construction has held the imagination. And as the River Liffey makes its way on a 125 kilometre journey to Dublin Bay two dozen bridges with colourful and interesting histories play a major, if unnoticed and taken-for-granted, role in daily life.

Ha'penny Bridge - a real favourite

Ha’penny Bridge – a real favourite

Bridges have been built over the river long before records began. The earliest crossing points were mere fords and these were subsequently replaced by bridges. Old bridges were damaged, often swept away, and these were then replaced by newer, more stable structures. The oldest one is Anna Livia Bridge at Chapelizod which was completed in 1753. The name was bestowed on it in 1982, the 100th anniversary of the James Joyce’s birth, as this is how he refers to the Liffey in his great work Finnegans Wake.

Within the city limits, the oldest bridge is Mellows Bridge (Queen St to Bridgefoot St) dating from 1768. It was originally called Queen’s Bridge (after Queen Charlotte, wife of George III), but was renamed in 1942 in honour of Liam Mellows.

Grattan (Capel Street) Bridge - perfect symmetry

Grattan (Capel Street) Bridge – perfect symmetry

The recently opened Rosie Hackett Bridge (Marlborough St to Hawkins) is the only one named after a woman, the former trade union activist who played a part in the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Easter Rising. However, Island Bridge (1792) was for 130 years known as Sarah’s Bridge until the name was changed in 1922. Sarah Fane, Countess of Westmorland, was the wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and its beauty was compared to the Rialto in Venice. It was a popular spot with both sightseers and artists.

The James Joyce and Samuel Beckett Bridges, both designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Santiago Calatrava, are white, steel and the most modern of bridges. ‘Sam’ also opens to allow ships to pass, an impressive sight if you get a chance to see it. And, like its older neighbours, doing an important job that Dubliners appreciate, if not always crossing their minds.

Samuel Beckett Bridge - light elegance

Samuel Beckett Bridge – light elegance

   

 

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